Author Archives: Sue Smith

Trauma 1

23 Jan 20
Sue Smith
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Thinking, Teaching, Talking Trauma

A big part of my work is involved in helping people understand and develop by delivering sessions to increase knowledge and insight into what is going on for them, for others, for clients and service users. I believe this is vital work and much needed within local communities, after all, education is knowledge, knowledge is power and re-empowering people is my business.

With that in mind educating others is very important to me, and over the years I have had positive feedback from many training groups who have found my sessions valuable for understanding their service users perspective and for learning potential new methods of engagement as a result.

Less traditionally, I have found that a balanced mix of psychological education (psycho-ed) can be very effective when working with clients on a 1-1 basis as part of their overall journey of recovery. Of course, this has to fit with their needs and has to facilitate client participation and perspective. With the client firmly rooted at the core of all we do, delivering sessions that explore educationally has proved beneficial for many.

Lets talk about trauma!

Trauma is a common subject that I help people to understand.

Groups of professionals and clients alike have benefited from increased understanding and insight into trauma, what triggers it, and how it presents. My delivery style is very user friendly and down to earth.

All of my training packages come from the perspective of the person experiencing the trauma.  If I’m training police about the impact of trauma, I do so with the victims presentation at the heart of the training. Using this approach officers gain a better understanding as to why they are presented with certain patterns or behaviours.

Similarly, with clients, when we explore what trauma is, we do so from their own first person perspective. It is true there are commonalities, certain symptoms and typical triggers, but there is also individuality. Every person experiencing trauma symptoms does so with their own unique version and their own take on the symptoms.

So what educational information is important when it comes to talking trauma?

Firstly – and most importantly……….

You are not cracking up!

‘It happened months ago, you should be over it by now’

The anti depressants are not working

Its in your head when you least expect it

You want to talk about it, you don’t want to talk about it

You wish your brain would just switch off

You want to be the person you were before this happened !

All of the above, constantly, day in, day out, can and often leaves people thinking they have somehow ‘lost the plot’.

So, they try to file it all away, get on with life and distract themselves from thinking about it.

Introducing the suitcase:

Let’s imagine the trauma is a car accident (apologies to those who are triggered by this).

So the accident happened, your lucky, you survived.

All of the feelings, thoughts, memories, pictures, sounds, smells and any other stimulus associated with the crash are placed in your suitcase. You don’t want to think about this horrible event. You want to get on with your life, so you close that suitcase, click the clips shut and put the suitcase on the shelf behind you.

There we go, traumatic incident, safely dealt with, sealed up and in the suitcase on the shelf.

You get on with your life, move forward from the crash, you know the suitcase is there but so far so good!

Trouble is that for some people (and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ here) the suitcase doesn’t fade away into some dark distant memory.

In fact, for some, it’s quite the opposite. The suitcase is off the shelf and is in plain view in front of you. Worse still, sometimes its open and you can see the contents. Sometimes you might even be expected to examine the contents in detail.

“So what’s so bad about that?” I hear you ask. Well, if post trauma symptoms are developing then the last thing you will want is any reminder that the suitcase exists, let alone the prospect of looking inside. Why? Because any reminder is not so much bringing back a bad memory, more actually taking you back to reliving the event, feelings, fears, everything.

As the re-experiencing of the event occurs you feel overwhelmed and just want that suitcase back on the shelf, closed and out of sight.

To achieve this people who experience trauma develop patterns and behaviours to avoid reliving the event.

Let me explain with a hypothetical scenario. The car crash happened on a Sunday. Shirley was driving down Peel Street in her blue Passat and out from nowhere ran a dog. She swerved to miss the dog and lost control of the car. The car hit a wall and was a write off. Luckily Shirley was fine… was the dog.

Initially Shirley thought she was fine, yes OK – it all felt a bit dreamy, a bit odd but that’s to be expected isn’t it? She remembers the car hitting the wall, it seemed to be in slow motion but hey that’s OK too.

Shirley was straight back to work and everything was fine, well she didn’t like Sundays much to start with -but that’s no big deal. Her car was replaced by insurance and she now had a red Audi A3- cool.

A few months later it was apparent that Shirley didn’t like driving down Peel Street, she would avoid it if possible, others started to notice too. ‘Why are you going the long way round?’

One friend also has a blue Passat and he noticed that Shirley seemed to avoid travelling with him. He thinks he has said something to offend her!

Shirley was out with her mum the other day, walking to the shops she noticed a stray dog near the road – She went off it about irresponsible owners, got quite agitated and snapped at her mum when she questioned what the hell was wrong with her.

So what was happening? Unbeknown to everyone else who thought the accident was well behind Shirley who was lucky to be OK – she wasn’t, OK that is.

When she tried to drive down Peel Street – she would have panic attacks, including the sweaty palms and racing heart she had when the accident happened. It makes her feel sick. She can hear the screech of the wheels and feel the impact of the wall. She has to give her head a shake – but ultimately the whole experience puts images and fears into her that she’d much rather forget. Her suitcase is open.

When she gets in the Passat the whole event comes flooding back. The dashboard and the interior are all the same, she’s catapulted back there, back in the car in slow motion about to hit the wall. She’s looking inside that suitcase.

Same with stray dogs – she immediately see them and hears a screech of wheels as t he car swerves to avoid hitting the dog.

Shirley is knackered. Every night when she goes to bed she see pictures and thoughts about the crash. ‘What the hell is the matter with me?’ She thinks. She drinks more, it helps her sleep sometimes but she’s irritable…. sorry Mum!

Sound familiar?

More to be explored in a future blog. To be continued….






Just Keep Swimming!

14 Jan 20
Sue Smith
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Just Keep Swimming!

As a child I never had the support and nurturing that I would wish for any other child. It led to complications: married too young, teenage motherhood and turbulent relationships. Sad circumstances and an assumed life of chaos and turmoil would be the likely outcome for me.

Now in personal relationships I confess it has not always been plain sailing and my inability to trust was reinforced through my experiences of controlling and hostile characters. But this blog is about professional and personal development, how adversity can not only be overcome but can indeed be nurtured itself into something positive.

I left school at 16 having sat just 2 of the 9 O’ levels I studied (yes I am that old)! Married at 17, first child at 18, another at 19 and another at 21.  Separated at 21 and divorced at 22. Now the separation itself was a relief however the concept of being a single mum with 3 kids at 21 year old – well – the future didn’t look bright.

I depended on state benefits and experienced all the judgements and hardships that go with that. But despite this and additional extreme circumstances that could rival any soap opera at the time (I will write a book one day) I dug deep to find something, anything, something to move me and my children forward.

At that time further education was free so I enrolled into a local college and studied Sociology and Psychology, I even got an ‘A’ level …!

I also knew that I needed to gain experience in something. So, as my children entered nursery and school age, I took up part time work and volunteering. Now the contrast couldn’t have been different, my part time work consisted of cleaning and catering work to give me a few extra quid to rob Peter and pay Paul.  My difficult life experiences however led to a core desire to help others, to support those worse off, to turn my experiences into something positive. I approached the then volunteer development agency, which no longer exists unfortunately and following an interview they offered me a placement working with a charity that supported victims of crime.

Now don’t get me wrong, it was not easy. I was about 24 years old, 3 kids, part time work and volunteering. I could have given up, been a stay at home mum but it never entered my head, I was always looking for the next thing, the progression, the next step.

Over those few years I developed a great deal. I started as all volunteers do needing a boat load of training and supervised practise working with clients. My people skills developed quickly, and I loved that I was volunteering to help people in my local community. Despite that my self-belief was so low that when a part time admin/support post came up at the charity I didn’t even consider applying. The post became vacant again a short while later and I was asked why I hadn’t applied first time round, so I did and got the job.

That role saw me develop further, I became the service co-ordinator, I trained volunteers and I went through all the stages of learning required to work with the most serious crimes and vulnerable witnesses. This is also when I started counselling training and where my first knowledge of working with PTSD occurred. The service manager was a Certified Trauma Specialist and I was fortunate enough that she saw my ability, she believed in me when I didn’t, and I was grateful for the opportunity to learn. I worked with her for many years in the capacity of a ‘Trauma Associate’ an area of work that still fascinates and drives my work today.

This period of my life, early 20’s – early 30’s, was significant in steering the path that I pursued. It was still tough; I experienced another marriage followed by divorce and had to deal with life changing and dramatic personal circumstances (still going to write that book)! The charity I worked for also changed, due to restructuring it was no more and I wasn’t at all sure what to do next. But still I kept digging deep, I kept going.

I found myself looking at a job vacancy one day – a specialist organisation in Middlesbrough. I read the words, the person specification and yes, I could say yes to them all, but I still didn’t really believe in me. I applied, thinking it was nothing more than experience in applying for jobs, I got an interview, I went along thinking it was good experience of interview techniques, I got the job and felt major disbelief –crikey I wasn’t even sure how to get to Middlesbrough, there must be a mistake!

It was no mistake; I was employed as a ‘Training and Development Officer’ for an organisation specialising in Domestic and Sexual Abuse. The team there quickly grew to respect me, and I was honoured. Again, I thought they were so much more knowledgeable than me but here they were coming to me for advice and support and there I was training professionals. I was terrified at the start but soon became embedded in the world of Teesside, running support groups within the community, developing and delivering accredited training with the University, working with clients with complex needs and supporting my colleagues.

After a few years the organisations role had changed, and funding became restricted so once again my future wasn’t certain. I was also facing further adverse personal circumstances (that book again)! I recall thinking I should stay put, just see what happens, I like many other people was fearful of the unknown, wary of change.

Around this time a new national initiative was underway – the creation of Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) in each Police force area. They were to be 24/7 support centres providing a range of options to victims who had experienced serious sexual offences. Services were provided regardless of whether the client wished to report to the Police. The Teesside one was due to open and they were looking for a Manager.

Colleagues believed in me, still more than I did and following reassuring feedback about how great I would be at the SARC I applied………and following a presentation and an interview to a panel of 5 ‘very important people’ ….I got the job.

As Manager of the Teesside Sexual Assault Referral Centre I had 12 years of building the service from nothing. I was presented with a brand-new building, new furniture and equipment but no policies, no procedures and initially only one member of staff. It took time to build the service into a fabulous facility providing excellent around the clock care to victims across Teesside, but relationships were built, respect obtained, and I had an amazing staff team doing a fabulous job.

Following a procurement process the service expanded to include provision of 24/7 crisis support to neighbouring SARCs too. Initially I was honoured that commissioners modelled the contract on the Teesside service of crisis intervention. Unfortunately, the new contract resulted in the role having less client focus, more screen time and spreadsheet focussed! Not things that resonate well with me so once again I had to consider my position and options available.

Launch: Specialist Support Solutions Ltd.

After 13 years of wonderful work in Teesside (I’m not including the ever-lengthening commute in that) I’ve took the plunge and launched my own business. Counselling, training and facilitating.

I’ve got this wealth of experience, both professional and personal (I will write that book)! And I want to bring that back to help my local community.

I’ve got a Management Degree, a Masters Degree no less – yes me! Me who left school with just 2 O’levels, me who was a single mum of 3 at just 21 years old and me who had no belief in me and thought that only ‘posh’ people went to University.

I’m a qualified Counsellor, an experienced Independent Sexual Violence Advisor (ISVA), a qualified Independent Domestic Violence Advocate (IDVA), DBS Cleared, Safeguarding trained and Director of my own business.

In 2017 I even won a special award which you can see if you follow this link:

Am I bragging? No not at all – I still think that somehow, I got here by some sort of fluke!! (It’s called Imposter Syndrome and most of us have a bit of it).

The point is this: – I’m a firm believer in positive mental attitude (PMA). PMA has helped me survive and encouraged my onward drive. Am I still a little scared? Of course I am. Will I let that stop me from trying? Absolutely not – I still want to make a difference and I’m still heading in that direction. ?


Always ask yourself this:-

What’s the worst that can happen?

It goes wrong? – So, stop, try a different path.

You fail? – So, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start again.

And if different paths are daunting, if you feel you simply haven’t got the energy to start again, get some help, get some support, personal or professional you’ll be surprised at what and who is there for you.

The worst thing is to do nothing, every step you take is a step, even if it doesn’t work out as you hoped it is a step forward. We learn from mistakes and advance from our learnings.

Keep moving forward.


Counsellor and Councillor

14 Jan 20
Sue Smith
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Being a Councillor/Counsellor

My name is Sue and I am a little unusual in so much as I am currently a counsellor and a councillor.

I’d like to think that an element of this occurring is down to my core position of caring about people, knowing right from wrong and wanting to ensure the best possible outcome for all.

As a therapeutic counsellor this makes absolute sense. I have worked with people to help them deal with problems, recover from difficulties and to heal from harm since the 1990’s. I have seen the debilitating effects of traumatic incidents on individuals and have a passion for working with clients with PTSD. I’m a qualified manager and have spent many years managing teams providing services to people affected by crime and am also a Mental Health First Aid Trainer.

Being a councillor however was never on my list of ‘to do’s’. It started as a result of me challenging the County Council over their decision to remove the lights on our street. I felt passionate about it because I care about people.

You see, our ‘street’ is actually a single track 60 mph ‘road’ that also happens to be a footpath connecting bridleways to the village and surrounding areas. Consequently, its regularly used by dog walkers, joggers and hikers alike and in the winter months pedestrians cannot be seen easily with streetlights – so it was a real concern that the County Council intended to remove them.

The Parish Council became aware of my challenge and approached me to see if I would consider joining the Parish Council.

My initial response was no – no way. I didn’t want to get involved in ’politics’ and my understanding was that the work of the parish council was neither understood nor appreciated in the main.

Then I got thinking and my core beliefs kicked in.

I started to consider being a parish councillor, as role to do good for my local community, about representing the local people and trying to ensure everyone had a voice. As I resided in a remote part of the village, I thought perhaps I could bring the voice of those few to the meetings or at very least keep them informed of developments in the village. So, I joined – and I remain.

I see my role as exactly what I initially envisaged. I believe I represent members of the community. If people cannot attend meetings themselves, I take their viewpoint and comments to the meetings on their behalf. I do this regardless of whether or not I share their viewpoint. If something is going to impact upon the residents, I push to ensure they are consulted. Again, I may not agree with the outcome of the consultation but believe that in our democratic society that is how it should work.

I try to keep up to date with all that is going on so that I can inform members of our community of anything of interest to them.

That is how I see the role and initially I shared an additional passion with a fellow councillor to develop more community events. I’m not sure how I feel about that now, whether it’s worth it, within our remit or indeed if it would be appreciated. We started the process with setting up a Residents Forum on Social Media and getting invites sent out for residents to join. It did not go particularly well initially and although the forum still exists and notices are regularly posted, the experience has perhaps postponed attempts to develop community events beyond that.

I do not profess to understand all, if indeed much, of the Parish and County Council business, as yet. However, I do believe it is not understood and not appreciated, well at least by those who comment upon it. I do believe I have joined the ranks of those who are there to be ridiculed by the few, I have experienced that personally. I do hope though that there are many out there who appreciate the efforts of their local councillors and are simply less vocal about it.

Will I continue as a councillor and a counsellor? Well the latter definitely- it’s in my blood. The first however, who knows? I guess it depends upon what happens next.

But in the meanwhile, if you live in Middridge, want some information or have a concern you wish to raise with local or county councillors I remain happy to be your voice, the conduit to the correct platform, for the time being.

Finally if anyone needs any counselling after reading this ………..


Talking Trauma

14 Oct 19
Sue Smith
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Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is being spoken about more often nowadays. Its included within scripts for TV dramas, recognised more within the mental health arena and generally acknowledged by society as a real condition.

But what does it mean? And what does it look like?

This blog gives a brief overview of this fascinating area of psychology.

Firstly, its important for me to say that personally I dislike the ‘D’ the disorder bit of PTSD. The symptoms of PTSD are the resulting factor of the brain working as it should when we experience non-normal life events. Such events trigger responses in the acute stage, at the time of the event and those responses are triggered to protect you, to save your life. Indeed, given horrendous, terrifying circumstances I would be more concerned about the survivor who experienced them and stated they were fine with no effect than someone who presented with trauma related symptoms.

However, for some people, and I believe many more than those currently diagnosed, the symptoms do not subside or fade over a period of time. Rather they continue, keeping the event, the incident, the trauma ‘charged’ as if it were still happening. So, your logic tells you it happened in the past, but you feel like it just happened yesterday, indeed the most common symptoms are those of re-experiencing where the individual relives the event through flashbacks, dreams, intrusive thoughts and imagery. In this respect when symptoms persist and interfere with day to day life for a prolonged period then I guess its fair to refer to it as disordered. Though I prefer to consider the circumstance as the trauma is still charged.

Many sufferers suffer in silence, thinking they’re ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ and wishing they could return to be the person they were before the event. To those around them they may appear to be out of character, have mood swings, or lack interest in previously enjoyed activities.  Its difficult for friends and loved ones to comprehend because the traumatic event is not charged for them, it is a memory, consigned to the memory banks. This can amplify the negative beliefs of the person experiencing symptoms and silence them further.

Image if you will: ‘The grandma who was mugged on her way back from bingo, she was pushed to the ground and her handbag snatched. That was over two years ago, but she still does not go to bingo and she still repeats the story over and over. Family response initially was good but now she often gets reminded that it was years ago and its been to court and she needs to put it behind her.’      Sounds familiar? She could have PTSD.

To be diagnosed with PTSD a certain number of symptoms must be present from three categories. The categories are: Re-experiencing, Avoidance and Arousal.

Individuals can also suffer with some symptoms, say for example from just one category, thereby not meeting the threshold for diagnosed PTSD, and still find themselves struggling to cope. This is because the symptoms can keep the traumatic incident charged even when there are not enough for full PTSD. The most draining of the symptoms are usually the re-experiencing ones.

Avoidance symptoms are; as the name suggests, methods of avoiding the re-experiencing symptoms being triggered. So people avoid talking about what happened, avoid watching their favourite soap opera because of the current story line, avoid the news, throw themselves into distraction by doing a task or turn to substances as a way of blocking it out.
The ultimate avoidance for some sadly is suicide.

Imagine this then:

Your gut, your feelings, your emotions are screaming at you ‘ this is difficult this is painful you need to deal with it’ while your head is shouting back ‘yes this is difficult this is painful, I’m not going to think about it’.

This conflict is a continuing battle of Re-experiencing VS Avoidance and the outcome is Arousal.

Arousal symptoms include: Sleep disturbance, irritability, hyper vigilance, lack of concentration to name a few.

The cycle continues: You have put the trauma in the suitcase and place the closed suitcase on the shelf behind you. You’re aware of it but you’re leaving it there as you want to get on with life. But every now and again something reminds you that the suitcase is there. Not only are you reminded of the suitcase, but something opens it and shows you the content within. You are back there, reliving not just the memories but the associated feelings and emotions that went with it. You desperately want that case closed and back on its shelf. So, you use whatever avoidance technique is at your disposal and regain control. Until the next time….

As a therapist with a passion for trauma I am in awe of the courage needed by traumatised people. Not only in surviving the extremely draining symptoms and continuing to find ways to function, but also in the strength it takes to access therapy. Think about this vicious circle, the trauma needs to be worked on to take the charge from it, the last thing you want to do is to re-experience the trauma, so naturally you’re going to avoid therapy if you can. Therapy is the act of doing exactly what your head is trying to stop you doing!

It stands to reason for all clients, particular those with traumatic memories that a safe environment along with a working pace timed to suit the individual is paramount to building a healthy therapeutic relationship.

Further information about symptoms and treatment is available at: 

More trauma talk in future blogs.

World Mental Health Day 10th October.

10 Oct 19
Sue Smith

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Today, October 10th is World Mental Health Day.

World Mental Health Day.

Its important to remember that Mental Health like Physical Health it fluctuates, some days are great some not so good. In winter arthritics feel their pain more, under pressure and at times of stress someones good mental health may deteriorate.
So how is your mental health on World Mental Health Day?
If its good – great! Keep looking after yourself and appreciate it may change.

If its not so good – be aware, spot the signs of deterioration, be kind to yourself. Seek some help if necessary.
And on World Mental Health Day always remember that we do not know what is going on for other people today, tomorrow, next week. If someone seems different don’t be shy – ask this simple question -‘How are you today?’